The Wilder Institute and partners are committed to restoring burrowing owl numbers using a conservation technique called head-starting to increase return rates and recruitment into the Canadian population. The youngest owl from a nest, which is the least likely to survive, is brought into captivity when it would otherwise migrate south for winter. These owls are released back to the prairie the following year, giving them a head start.
Owls are released as male-female pairs into artificial nest burrows installed in the same general areas they originally inhabited. Nests from released pairs are monitored closely and once nestlings are old enough, they are trapped and banded. The bands help us identify them the following spring and tells us who has returned from a successful migration. We equip some adult owls with satellite transmitters to help us track them after release and help us learn about the challenges they face during migration and on their wintering grounds.
In 2016, we launched an innovative program together with Environment and Climate Change Canada and Alberta Environment and Parks to explore whether head-starting can contribute to burrowing owl recovery in Canada. Head-starting is a conservation tool that involves taking juvenile burrowing owls from the wild to the Wilder Institute each summer and releasing them as adults the following spring. These owls would be very unlikely to survive from juvenile to adulthood if left in the wild, and our project gives them a “head start” by supporting them during this critical stage of their life. Head-started owls are released in breeding pairs and also contribute offspring to the wild population. We are proud to work together with local landowners and Canadian Forces Base Suffield to release burrowing owls in southern Alberta.
Our conservation impact
By protecting young owls during a challenging stage of life and releasing them as potential breeders onto Canadian nesting grounds the following spring, this project boosts survival and increases first-year return rates for these owls. Ultimately, the objective is to increase the species’ population on the Canadian prairies.